Brain scanning the fruit fly

Scientists have published staggering new images of the fruit fly using a new technique called ‘optical projection tomography’ – check out the movie below which shows optical sections through the frontal plane of an adult fly. The fluorescent channel (green) delineates the anatomy, and the brightfield channel (red) marks out the exoskeleton.


The technique means scientists no longer have to dissect the flies by hand to observe how genetic changes influence the loss of brain cells.

According to Dr Mary O’Connell of the MRC Human Genetics Unit, who led the research, the brain cell loss that affects humans in conditions like Alzheimer’s, also affects insects. “In the autumn, bees and wasps often develop erratic behaviour before they die,” she said.

Now with this new imaging technique the researchers will be able to look at how changes in gene activity are related to brain changes in the fly. And because fruit flies share many of the same genes as humans, the research will help us understand disease processes in humans too. The findings are published in the open-access journal PLoS One.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Link PLoS journal article.
Link to MRC press release.
Hat tip: Guardian Science.